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Obama's 100-Day Hope Check | The Nation

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Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt

Politics, feminism, culture, books and daily life.

Obama's 100-Day Hope Check

Are Barack Obama's  supporters wondering where the hope went? Does the campaign now seem only a golden dream? After all, Obama's been in the White House for over three months, and people are still losing jobs and houses, US troops are still overseas, single-payer health care is still not on the agenda.  Surely the President should have fixed all that by now with the power of his mighty hope machine.

In her current Nation column, Naomi Klein claims that disillusion is setting in. She has a  clever list of  words to describe the phenomenon: Hopefiends feel hopebreak which will (hopefully) lead to hopelash, "a 180-degree reversal of everything Obama-related." Enough of these cowardly compromises! Back to the streets! 

I have a lot of respect for Naomi Klein, but I think her own hopes for  a mass radical movement are getting in the way here. According to polls, after all, Obama is wildly popular.  A Harris Interactive poll released on April 7 found that 68% of Americans  have a good opinion of him. That doesn't necessarily mean they approve of everything he's doing, but it means that a heck of a lot of people who didn't vote for him like him now.  Is there any evidence that "a growing number of Obama enthusiasts are starting to entertain the possibility that their man is not, in fact, going to save the world if we all just hope really hard"? And by the way, did anyone over the age of  21 ever really believe this? That hope, an emotion, was going to "save the world," the way  children clapping their hands saves Tinkerbell? Are Americans really such idiots? Hmmm, better not answer that. 

Naomi and I must talk to different people. For example, I don't know anyone as stupid as the hopefiendish "Joe" who "actually believes Obama deliberately brought in Summers so that he would blow the bailout, and then Obama would have the excuse he needs to do what he really wants: nationalize the banks and turn them into credit unions." Think what you're saying, Joe! Had Obama intentionally put in someone he knew would fail, he would not only be a clairvoyant and a psychopath-- callously indifferent to the ruin of possibly millions of people--  he'd also be risking political suicide. Because had he first chosen a course he knew would fail he would not have the political capital to "what he really wants."  

I know a lot of people who supported Obama, and every time I see them I ask how they think he's doing. The only people I've found who've given up on him, who feel betrayed, misled, and foolish, are those leftists who didn't like him in the first place and voted for him in a weak moment as the lesser evil. They, predictably, went back to their cabins on Mt. Disdain before Obama  had even been inaugurated.   Obama will never satisfy the left because no president could. FDR didn't satisfy the left either.

I was a strong supporter of Obama but I always thought hopespeak fell somewhere between metaphor and twaddle. Obviously, Obama was not going to turn the US into Sweden. Obviously, he would make all sorts of compromises and deals.  And obviously I would hate that. That's politics.  Where am I on the hope-o-meter?  Like everyone, I'm worried about the bailout, Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm appalled that he envisions no prosecution of those who set up the legal framework of torture  and those who carried it out. And what about Bagram? On the plus side:  he's been terrific on women's rights and reproductive rights here and abroad, made some excellent appointments (Hilda Solis at Labor), reached out to the Muslim world, opened communications with Cuba and Iran, said he'll close Guantanamo, declared an end to torture, and, with the stimulus, successfully challenged the notion that government spending (except on the military) is bad. He's made it less embarrassing to be an American.  I think he'll make good judicial appointments. If another Katrina happened tomorrow, I think he'd handle it well.

It's important to challenge Obama. No president deserves mindless loyalty. But color me modestly hopeful -- for now.         

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